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Not Quite the Knight Rider and KITT: Technology, Driving and Delivery

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Who remembers Knight Rider?

Yeah, I'm dating myself again. I have to admit, it was a favorite show for me in my college days. That probably says a lot about me already. If you didn't already notice it, I'm enough of a geek that the whole talking car thing, the tech, all that future stuff really struck a cord. And you had David Hasselhoff, the 80's version of William Shatner when it comes to acting. You can take that whatever way you want.

For those of us old enough to remember, who'da thunk we'd be the modern version of Michael Knight? Driving around, saving the world…. uhmmm….. stopping the bad guys… .ummm….. feeding the good guys!!!

Okay, so we're not exactly on a world saving mission, but we got the technology! There's stuff we have available to us today that the Hoff and Kitt would be envious of. Now I have to admit, I wouldn't mind having that Trans Am to do my deliveries in, that thing was a piece of art. But for this week's episode, let's talk tech and delivery.

We have talking cars. Or talking smart phones IN our cars.

In my opinion, one of the most valuable things we have from a technology standpoint is the voice assistant technology. It's also one of the most under-utilized things. You have Siri, you have Samsung's Bixby, you have Google Voice Assistant. You have Amazon Echo that now has an auto version. Now I can speak from experience using Bixby, Google Assistant and even Amazon Echo. I don't have the iPhone, so I can't tell how well Siri works in some situations. I have used Amazon's Alexa at home but haven't experimented with the auto version of the echo yet.

To a certain extent, we do have talking cars. With the voice assistant technology and being able to connect with your car stereo via Bluetooth or direct connections, it's getting pretty close. Okay, we can't tell the car itself what to do, we're not quite there, but there are applications that specifically help us get around and more importantly, keep us safe.

Using the voice assistant to keep your hands on the wheel.

I've found that on my Samsung phone, the combination of Google Voice and Bixby is a good one. Each has strengths where the other is lacking. Bixby works great when it comes to operating the phone. I can give it specific commands to open up an app. If an offer comes in for Doordash, it's “Hi Bixby!” Open Dasher. I don't have to touch the phone to see the incoming offer. Unfortunately, the Dasher app has a way of knocking my streaming off line whenever an offer comes in, but I can have Bixby open up that app and resume playing. You can give specific instructions if the app is integrated. “Hi Bixby, open Youtube and search for Paid to Drive.”

The technology isn't complete by any means. I don't like having to wait a second to wake the assistant up, I understand that Siri is better in that regard. I tried telling Bixby to search for EntreCourier and it searched for Andre Career, I tried searching for UDM and it searched for You DM. I do understand you can train it but when you're driving around you don't really want to mess with that. I asked Bixby to read the latest text and it said “From 8 billion Six Hundred Forty Seven Million Seven Hundred Forty Four Thousand One Hundred Forty Seven: New Order… (If you do Doordash you recognize the number 864-774-4177. So it's clunky in some ways but holy cow, such a long way from my first Samsung Epic. And I've only scratched the surface.

I've found that some things work better with the Google Assistant. It also has a wakeup, “Okay Google,” but for searching and for navigation, I find it works a little better. You can ask it questions and have it read things back to you. If I have to text a customer, the voice recognition technology on phones is getting very good. One quick tip I've learned is that using the GBoard option for a keyboard on Android, you can train it better so things like Doordash doesn't show up as Door-.

Using voice assistant to make delivery decisions.

I use a 40 cent rule in deciding on deliveries. A delivery has to pay 40 cents a minute or more to be worthwhile. That requires getting an estimate of how long a delivery will take. When I get an offer screen and I see where the restaurant is and the general area of the customer, sometimes I'll do a quick inquiry. Okay Google, how far to Falaffel House? How far from Falaffel House to Sheridan and Evans? I find the drive times it gives to be pretty accurate, the wild card is of course wait time at the restaurant and if the customer is in an apartment.

Using Tech to Get to the Customer

On most of the apps, you have an option to choose which navigation you want to use. Uber Eats does have its own navigation and it works pretty well. Now you have some people who swear by Waze, and I think Waze has a love hate thing going on there. They have some very innovative things especially in the crowdsharing where you know better about accidents or where police are, things like that. I just found Waze to be glitchy enough times, other times totally on crack as to where it was sending me, that personally I moved back to Google maps.

I want to give a shout out to Dash Bridges on Twitter – he brought up a good point on using the app itself for Doordash when you get closer to the customer. There might be a way to turn off the “you've arrived” feature that pops up on Google maps and prevents you from pinpointing the customer location, but as Dash pointed out, you can then go back to the app and get a better and more accurate feel for where you are. I find this to be true with Grubhub as well.

Finding apartments

One challenge with navigating for delivery is when you get to apartments. Murphy's law is that the entrance that gets you closest to the apartment you are looking for is always the last possible one you can try. Colorado has had some liberal marijuana laws for awhile but I swear that apartment designers have been smoking the stuff long before it was legal when they numbered their buildings and apartments. There's no rhyme or reason or consistency. Sometimes the GPS will take you to the building, and I think that often depends on if the customer let the app auto find them by GPS location. Other times it just dumps you in the middle of the complex.

One thing you want to look for is an app called Beans. It is essentially a database of apartment locations. I just recently started using it. It is hit or miss, I find some complexes that are not listed, but in some that I've had a hard time finding things in the past, it's a life saver. You type in the address and if it's in the database, the address will pop up with a Beans logo next to it, otherwise for me it's showing up with a Google logo meaning it's using Google maps. But here's the sweet thing – if it is an address in their database, it will show you WHERE in the building the particular address is.

The Beans app will show you exactly where in the building the apartment is. It won't tell you which floor you're looking for unfortunately – normally it's easy to tell but what were they smoking to determine that 625 is on the 4th floor? (and 525 is 3rd, 425 2nd, etc)

Folks, do you know how many times I've gone down the wrong way in a hallway in a large building, thinking it just makes sense that it would be that direction, only to have to backtrack? This feature is HUGE. Seriously, being able to know exactly which entrance to go in, exactly where in the complex an apartment is, and which way to look inside a building is money. I wish there were a crowdsource feature to it to add more apartments, but this is one of the most useful things I've found.

Using Tech to Run Your Business

Here are a couple of things that I've found to be very useful.

One that I want to bring up real quick, it's not so much an app and maybe goes back to an earlier topic – if your car doesn't have a stereo that's android or apple compatible, think about upgrading. Those things are costly, I know. I've got maybe the only 20 year old Buick with a big screen android auto stereo, but when it comes to navigating and integrating with my smartphone, it was worth it. Okay, that and it has a backup camera that's been a life saver when paralell parking.

Google sheets.

I do a lot of tracking of my deliveries. In fact, I jot down every start time and mileage reading for each delivery. That's because then, delivery by delivery, I can see how profitable I was. I can even tell you how much per hour I make on Grubhub, Doordash and other deliveries. I used to use a notebook and then enter it in, but I found it so much faster to use a Google sheets spreadsheet.

Hubspot CRM

Here's a new one I'm trying out. Hubspot is a CRM or Customer Relations Management database. Think Salesforce, or ACT if you are really old school. It's usually used by businesses so they can keep track of customers, sales prospects, vendors, and then also keep notes on all their information. If you ever called a customer support line and they say oh yeah, I see that you called in about this before, that's a form of CRM. That might seem like overkill, but the reason I'm trying it is about the restaurants. I can keep notes about each restaurant, things like names of the regular staff, just any quirky things about them. You can also use it to track customers that you don't want to deliver to again. The database format could be a little more useful than keeping a notebook or spreadsheet.

Honestly, I'm kind of on the fence about it – the main thing is not to let any of that slow you down, though voice typing really helps with adding notes etc. Hubspot is free, but you do have to have a domain name to sign up because they want to make sure it's a business. Most the stuff is stuff I'm usually going to remember, other than maybe names.

GPS, Mileage tracking, and Financial apps

This is a category worth its own treatment probably. I'm always hearing about ‘how should I track my miles?' and things like that. Now personally, because I'm tracking them on a delivery by delivery basis, I've got that covered but I do use GPS as a backup. Right now I'm using the free app called Stride. The good with Stride is that they are built around gig work, and they have some expense tracking features that make it work as a good if not very basic all in one package. Personally I wouldn't rely solely on Stride. Sometimes it just doesn't track. I've had it duplicate trips. I've had times where it stops tracking and when you look at your history it shows a straight line from one point to another in hte area it wasn't tracking. Now whether that's because of the phone itself or it's the app, I couldn't tell you. The other problem with Stride is it doesn't have filters so if you're walking a block downtown due to parking, it will track that.

Personally, I use Quickbooks Self Employed for my book keeping. It's designed for independent contractors and designed to be easy to use. I'm not pleased with the lack of flexibility, having used full blown Quickbooks in other businesses, but a lot of people, it works well. It has a GPS tracking function as well — you can set it to automatically start tracking when you are moving. But I don't like that feature because it can make it harder to designate between personal and business trips. That ends up being a personal decision.

My biggest beef with any of the gps apps I've seen so far is that you can't pull up point by point information in the history. For example, I've used Strava for logging runs and bike rides and with that, you can actually pick out a point and know the time you were there. Sometimes for documentation purpose, that would be a good feature to have.

My Dream App

I mentioned that I use a spreadsheet for tracking. I wish I had the time to learn it or money to invest in it, I think it would be awesome to develop an app that makes it easier. You can tap start and stop for delivery times. You could use GPS to track miles, tap an icon to say which company the delivery was for, and pull up profitability reports for hte day, week, month, year. And then if you want to get REAL fancy, throw in a database of restaurants and expense tracking and make it a full fledged delivery pro app. I'd pay for that.

Final Thoughts on Tech and Delivery

Here's the thing, there's a lot of cool stuff out there. I've found that a lot of the things I've mentioned do help save time. The Beans app is the newest one that really makes a difference, it can shave several minutes off apartment deliveries.

Back when I was in telecom, we had what we called a technology mission statement. We would tell customers and potential customers, “technology needs to either help you be more profitable or more competitive. If it doesn't do either of those, you shouldn't invest in it.” There were times we recommended that our customers not buy from us yet because it wasn't going to help them.

And that's something I want to point out for us in our businesses. Folks, it's got to help you. Tech for tech sake isn't really that helpful. In fact sometimes it can be counter productive. So I really recommend asking these two questions when thinking about any kind of tech:

Does it save time?

If you listen to me much, you are guaranteed to hear the 40 cent rule. Time is worth 40 cents a rule. Or whatever amount you set as your target. You can say $24 per hour, but when you break it down to the minute, that's where it really has some power. It shows you that every minute you waste is costing you 40 cents, every minute you save earns you 40 cents. So is the tech saving time? I mentioned Beans, it can save several minutes. But be careful it isn't costing time – typing and utilizing and learning. That's where I'm on the fence about Hubspot – haven't really dug into it enough but taking time to create a listing for each restaurant, it could be counter productive.

Does it help your profits?

Having the ability to use tech to make decisions is huge. Voice assistant tech helps me make quick decisions and I can do it safely without having to pull over. Having GPS to make sure you're maximizing your expenses keeps the taxes down. Things like that.

Deciding on tech

Here's the deal: Tech has a learning curve. It takes time to learn some of this stuff. I've sat down with my phone and youtube to learn some of this stuff. If it's time I wouldn't be out driving, maybe that's not so bad. If it's keeping me from driving and making money, I have to consider that. See where I'm going?

There's some awesome stuff out there. But you have to always be weighing it. Make business decisions – is it helping you achieve your goals? Is it making you more profitable? Is it reducing time? Or is it doing the opposite? Be aware of the stuff that can help you succeed in oyur business but be careful not to dive into something that actually works against you.

Could this help someone else? Please share it.

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